Construction of Wat Chedi Luang was begun in 1391 by King Saen Muang Ma to hold the ashes of his father Ku Na. The construction took nearly a century but upon its completion in 1475, it was by far the largest structure in Chiang Mai reaching a height of 80 meters. In 1468 the most sacred Buddha image in all of Thailand, the Emerald buddha was placed there. There the image remained for nearly 100 years until it was moved during the 1550’s to Luang Prabang in present day Laos to keep it safe from the invading Burmese army. The emerald Buddha is now housed at Wat Phra Kaew inside the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok. In the year 1545, a catastrophic earthquake struck the area and destroyed much of the temple. It was later partially restored to its current height of 60 meters.
The large Chedi at the center of the temple complex is easily its biggest draw. The Chedi measures 40 meters by 40 meters at its base and is of brick construction common to most temples built during the time period. 4 massive stairways ascend its sides to small alcoves where Buddha images are enshrined. Looking at the massive temple it’s hard not to stare with a sense of wonderment of all the temple must have seen and how Chiang Mai has grown in over 600 years since its construction.
There are two Viharns on the temple grounds. The larger Viharn has an impressive facade of golden colors and was constructed in 1928, the roof is supported by large columns leading to the red ceiling. Within the larger Viharn is a large standing Buddha one hand raised with a palm facing out in a gesture meant to dispel fear. The image is known as Phra Chao Attarot and dates back to the founding of the temple at the end of the 14th century. The smaller Viharn is decorated on the outside with wonderful wood carvings and is itself a fantastic sight.
On the temple grounds lies a large Dipterocarp tree, a tree common around southeast Asia that often towers to a height of up to 70 meters and can be so large at its base as to require several people to encircle it holding hands to reach all the way around it. Next to the tree is a small cross-shaped building that houses the City Pillar known as Lak Mueang. Many such pillars exist in cities across Thailand and are said to protect the city and its inhabitants from harm. It is said that if the tree next to the pillar ever falls great tragedy will come to the city of Chiang Mai.
Almost worthy of its own written guide, Wat Phan Tao is a beautiful temple constructed entirely of teak wood that lies within the Chedi Luang complex. The top of the front entrance is intricately carved and gilded reliefs of Lanna flower motifs. Inside the viharn are red teak pillars that support the roof. Large woven banners hang from the ceiling, and opposite the entrance is a large sitting Buddha image. Inside the viharn are also several old wooden boxes decorated with gold leaf and containing Buddhist scriptures written on palm leaves.
A reclining buddha image can be seen in a small structure on the temple grounds. There is also a bell tower that is worth a glance.
The Temple is open from 6am-6pm, and there is no admission fee, however donations are very much appreciated. As with any Buddhist Temple, it is expected that you dress respectfully and keep your voice low so as not to disturb those who are praying or meditating.